Hurricane Matthew, which hit the southwestern tip of Haiti on October 4, affected 1.4 million people. Those affected make up 20% of the total Haitian population. In the Sud and the Grand’Anse, the areas that were the hardest hit, 100% of the population were affected. Up to 70% of the populations of the two departments (840,000 persons) are in need of immediate humanitarian aid. Houses were flattened to the ground, roofs of standing houses were snapped, and access routes to the most remote regions of Grand’Anse remain cut off. Fields and plantations were destroyed and needs are significant. Food reserves are already very limited and the destruction of crops could lead to food insecurity in the months to come, not only in the hardest hit areas, but also in the other parts of the island. Today, families don’t have access to clean water and are drinking unsafe rainwater to relieve their thirst, exposing themselves to the risk of cholera. Cholera is a real threat in the disaster-stricken areas of Haiti. A number of cases have already been identified.
In the Sud and Grand’Anse, ongoing emergency operations
ACTED teams on the ground have been working hard since the passage of Hurricane Matthew. The first phase of evaluation and diagnosis completed, the initial emergency operations have been under way for a week now. Teams have been reinforced, especially on a logistics level, in order to ensure interventions, most rapidly as possible, in the affected areas, as well as in the areas that are difficult to access.
For days, ACTED teams have been distributing water purification kits. They have also been putting in place six water treatment units, provided by the Fondation Veolia, allowing to the populations to access drinking water. Water is indispensable for their survival and the prevention of water-borne diseases, particularly cholera. “We really are in a period of initial emergency. If we don’t offer access to water and food, there will be a risk of human loss,” testified Emilie Bernard, Country Director of ACTED Haiti.
Food rations (4.5 kg of rice, 0.15 kg of olive oil, and 0.075 kg of salt per person for 30 days) were delivered in the communes of Jérémie and Les Cayes from the capital of Port-au-Prince. From now on, it is essential to ensure the distribution of these foodstuffs in a systematic and equal manner to the entire population.
Access to the most remote areas is one of the biggest challenges of today. “In the Sud, and particularly the Grand’Anse, we have huge problems of accessibility. Although the main axes and corridors are beginning to be cleared away, we are still incapable of reaching the most remote areas. In certain places, even diagnostics were not realized because the teams were not physically able to reach certain parts of Mornes. Logistics constitute a big challenge. We work by land, sea and air to deliver food and essential goods as rapidly as possible.”
During the initial phase of emergency, ACTED plans to pursue the distributions (drinking water, food, emergency shelters, other essential goods, as well as cash) primarily in coastal areas, and gradually in the Mornes, which remains cut off until now. In parallel, ACTED is working - on a daily basis - on responding to the cholera emergency in Grand’Anse and Sud.
Teams mobilised daily to prevent the risk of cholera
After the hurricane, many areas have been inundated and covered in mud, creating conditions for the propagation of cholera.
A number of cholera cases appeared in the Artibonite Department (the centre of the island) in October 2010, which then rapidly spread across Haiti. Since 2012, the conjoined efforts between Haitian authorities and international actors allowed to contain the epidemic and to achieve a considerable decline in the number of cases. ACTED has been engaged in the fight against cholera since the beginning. Facing a cholera surge in 2014, ACTED reinforced its mobile prevention and treatment teams, while also supporting institutional response and capacities, in collaboration with the Direction de la Protection Civile et la Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assainissement (DINEPA).
The consequences of Hurricane Matthew, notably the rainfall that struck the region and the inundations, coupled with the destruction of hygiene structures and the lack of drinking water, make us fear for the worst. Only ten days following the hurricane, many Haitians, who were affected by the disaster, showed symptoms of cholera. According to Emilie Bernard, “The cholera emergency interventions are still taking place every day, non-stop.” Teams are mobilized to follow up and reinforce their effort to contain the spread of the disease and to counter the sanitary catastrophe, which could aggravate the situation, already sombre after Hurricane Matthew.
Food security and means of existence, a major challenge
The catastrophe struck the country’s breadbasket, devastating crops and plantations. Agriculture, which constitutes an essential means of existence for many families in the affected regions, suffered significant damages. If operations concentrate today on the provision of foods, drinking water, vital for the survival of the populations, the priority tomorrow would be to put in place production recovery interventions. The priority would also be to allow the large numbers of families to recover their means of existence and to establish food security, which is under threat today. “We are giving ourselves a maximum deadline of three months to launch agricultural recovery actions with local actor,” said Emilie Bernard. Even though the Sud and the Grand’Anse were the hardest hit, other regions were equally affected by Matthew, notably the Nord-Ouest, the Sud-Est and the Nippes Department. Although humanitarian needs were “a bit less urgent” than in the Sud and Grand’Anse, recovery operations, especially agricultural ones, are already under way. “In regards with agricultural losses, it is still a little early to provide data that we are sure of, but we can easily estimate that at least an entire year of recovery is necessary…” ACTED teams are already thinking of steps that follow the emergency intervention underway and which remains a priority or our 200-people humanitarian team on the ground.
ACTED launched an online call for donations (http://www.acted.org/en/support-us) and calls on enterprises local French collectivity to support initial emergency actions, and to equally accompany our programmes to allow the most affected communities in the island to reconstruct, find a ceiling, ensure their food security and access to means of resilience, notably agricultural.